When I walked into the Blue Moon on Monday, I received a friendly greeting from Eamon Peer, which I expected. What I didn't expect was what followed it.
"Do you know you won a prize?" he said.
Since both the Nobels and Pulitzers had already been given, I was completely confused.
"A prize?" I asked. "What prize?"
"I dunno," he said.
"Then how'd you know I won it?"
"It was on the radio this morning."
As I stood there, confused and scratching my head, Eamon asked Kenny Fontana if he know what prize it was.
"Yeah," said Kenny. "It was from the Women's College Scholarship Club."
This brought up another question, namely how I could've won a prize if I didn't remember entering any contest. This remained one of the Great Mysteries of Life, in the same class as such ineffables as "Have we been visited by extraterrestrials?" or "Why do the French think Jerry Lewis is a genius?" or "How can anyone find Seinfeld funny?" until I ran into Janet Dudones an hour or so later.
"Well, how's it feel to have won a prize?" she said.
"Great, I guess," I said. "Only I'd feel a whole lot better if I knew how I won it."
"Well, obviously," she said, as if explaining something to an obtuse ten-year-old, "you bought one of the winning raffle tickets."
I couldn't remember either a raffle or a ticket.
"Raffle tickets?" I said. "Where were they sold?"
"At Ace Hardware and at Kinney's," she said.
And then it all came to me: Kinney's. Of course - Kinney's!
But it was only logical I wouldn't have remembered, because Kinney's was a vector and the raffle table was only a point on it.
No, the actual beginning of this tale took place years ago
A hairstory lesson
You've all heard of the Stone Age, Iron Age and Bronze Age, but chances are you've never heard of the Beard Age. And that's because I just made it up.
Strictly speaking, America had two Beard Ages. The first was from the middle to the end of the 19th century. The second started in the 1960's and we're still in it.
There were two major differences between them. In the first, everyone (including politicians) had a beard, and every kind of beard, no matter how far out, was acceptable. Today, beards are acceptable among almost all groups except politicians, but long beards are outre almost everywhere.
When I say long beards, I mean l-o-o-o-ng beards - those ending at mid-chest at least, like Father Time's, the Smith brothers' of cough-drop fame, or the one I'm now attempting to grow.
So why, if l-o-o-o-ng beards have been out of fashion for over a century, do I want to grow one? Simple it's because of The Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood, lest you not know, is my Winter Carnival parade unit - The Brothers of the Bush, whose sole admission requirement is facial hair. I believe my beard is the longest continual one; however, the longest one, lengthwise, is Brother Ron Burdick's. And his is the one I'd like to emulate.
Growing a beard, especially a l-o-o-o-ng one, requires four things. One is a job that allows it. The second is the patience to wait months, if not years, for the results, and the third is not caring about what people think of your personal aesthetics. Luckily, I was cool with all of them.
But the fourth requirement is one I did not have - a comb.
Why didn't I have a comb? A better question is why would I have had one? Having had almost no hair on my head and a short beard for decades, I've needed a comb as much as a subscription to GQ. But once my beard got longer, and more prone to tangles, I needed a comb. And that's why I went to Kinney's and, ultimately, why I won my prize.
One vice I've never indulged (perhaps the only one) is gambling. But I don't consider charity raffles gambling since they go to good causes, and thus I never care if I win. So almost as soon as I bought tickets from Margie Cochran at Kinney's, I forgot about them until Monday, when my status as A Lucky Winner came to light.
The capitals L and W in Lucky Winner is not an accident.
There were over 20 prizes and the winners were called in the order they'd been picked, so they could choose their prize. Thus, while the last person called had no choice, the first one had all the choices. I was somewhere at the top of the list, so when Linda Roberts called and started reading off the prizes, I could hardly believe my ears.
The selection was wonderful, but I knew which one I wanted as soon as I heard it.
Actually, I got two prizes. One was a cutting board handcrafted by Peter Lukens. OK, so I'm a major floperoo as a cook. Then again, maybe the reason I'm a flop is because I never had a beautiful cutting board (or any cutting board, for that matter). We'll just have to wait and see.
The second present was something that was immediately and clearly up my alley: A pet portrait by Heidi Gutersloh. If you've never seen her work, let me tell you it's stunning, as it captures beautifully the pet's character as well as its conformation.
My only problem was deciding which member of my four-pet menagerie would get painted, but even that was short-lived: Brother Phineas the Pug Thug won the vote paws-down.
On Thursday, Brother Phineas met Heidi and her husband Bill for a photo session in Riverside Park. Heidi, being the perfectionist she is, snapped dozens of shots, making sure she could capture his very Phineas-ness.
After the photo shoot, we said our goodbyes, and now we're anxiously awaiting the final product.
When I think of this, I'm amazed by the irony of my having won these beautiful prizes simply by deciding to grow my beard.
But that irony pales compared to a greater one -?namely, that the only oil portrait that'll ever be in my family will be that of a goofy but goodhearted pug.